(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the shelf life of up to 1 million rapid COVID-19 tests that had expired in a Florida warehouse.
Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration revealed between 800,000 and 1 million Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests had sat idle in a warehouse and expired in December.
Federal regulators, however, approved a three-month extension, meaning the tests can be used through March.
During a news conference Wednesday, DeSantis announced that the tests were being made available again and would be sent out.
“Different testing centers, different county health [department] people that want them, [they’re] gonna go, but those are not at-home tests, those are older Abbott tests,” DeSantis said.
The Florida Department of Health clarified in a statement that the tests are “produced for testing sites and require trained professionals to administer them.”
The news of the stockpile was first revealed in late December by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2022.
Fried told ABC News that after seeing long lines for tests last month, her team started calling local health departments to figure out why there were delays. She said an official high up in the governor’s administration eventually told her about the stockpile.
“These are a million tests that should have been distributed to local departments of health, to local communities that needed these tests,” she said. “We knew that omicron was coming to our country and our state, and he missed the mark and completely dropped the ball.”
“It was wonderful that we had a stockpile,” she added, “but if the stockpile isn’t distributed and the tests aren’t being distributed, then what good is it?”
At a press conference about a week later, DeSantis and Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, confirmed that between 800,000 and 1 million tests had expired.
Guthrie said the tests originally were set to expire in September but the FDA earlier in 2021 had extended it until December.
DeSantis said the stockpile had gone unused due to low testing demand over the fall and that he was asking the Biden administration to extend the expiration date.
“We couldn’t have predicted that Florida would have the lowest COVID prevalence in the fall,” Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, told ABC News. “We had really low demand for testing. That was unexpected, and that’s pretty much why” the kits weren’t sent out.
Fried said this explanation is “completely inadequate” and that DeSantis’ administration had time to distribute the tests before they expired.
“We all saw the lines. As I’ve driven across the state, I saw four-, five-hour lines,” she said. “Knowing these were going to expire, he should have distributed them to all of the local health departments, should have replenished the stock, should have even done a swap exchange between the stockpile we had with other testing facilities, nursing homes, make sure they were utilizing the tests that were about to expire.”
Pushaw said she’s not aware of any testing center in Florida that didn’t get the number of tests requested from the state.
In a Jan. 7 letter posted on the FDA’s website, the agency said it was able to extend the shelf life of the test kits after Abbott provided stability data showing the kits would still work for at least 15 months if stored at room temperature.
After the FDA granted the extension, Fried said she’s glad the tests can still be used but is calling on the DeSantis administration to take the White House up on its offer to set up federal testing sites.
“We need more testing,” she said. “That is the only way to know if you’re actually positive. I know it’s flu season and cold season, and people need to know if they are positive in order to stay away from those vulnerable populations.”
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